The Freedom of Being a Creature

Luther loved to speak about the great privilege of being a creature fashioned by God. The first true thing about us is that we are creatures of God. We do not determine our existence. We are fundamentally dependent. Creation establishes God as the ultimate giver and us as the ultimate receivers.

This relationship never changes—though sin would lead us to believe that these roles can be reversed. In fact, sin is an attempt to transgress the creature/creator boundary. To be a creature is to be wonderfully free. Our life is not up to us. Think for a moment on the vocation of a creature. What does it entail to be God’s image-bearing creatures? What are the benefits?

  • We receive our initial existence
  • We receive our ongoing existence
  • We depend upon him for all that we need
  • We are made to do all that he asks
  • Privilege and grace is at the core of our existence
  • We are free to be creatures and to let God be God
  • Creatureliness provides a boundary that proves to be our freedom

In the story line of Scripture, we can see the purpose and freedom of being a creature given, lost, and then restored in Christ. The fall was a giant leap upward. It was the first human attempt to transgress creaturely boundaries. The result was the fall, which left us less than the creatures God intended.

All sin is of this same nature—it is a rejection of our creatureliness. Viewing sin through this lens helps us better understand our refusal to receive from God and our incessant endeavor to become him. In our sin, we grasp at omnipotence and omniscience. We try to operate as though we are omnipresent and all wise. We interact with others as though we are sovereign and worthy of worship.

In short, our sin always betrays the fact that we are trying to be someone and something that we are not. We are trying to be God. This is idolatry. We seek to dethrone God and place ourselves in his rightful position. Such rebellion is worthy of death. In this graphic, sin would look like pushing past the boundaries of the box into the realm of the creator.

We were made with good limits. Physical exhaustion may be an attempt at omnipresence. Sinful independence and arrogance toward God could well be grasping for his self-sufficiency. Believing you call the shots and striving to control everything is attempted theft of God’s sovereignty.

Trusting your own wisdom above all others transgresses the creature boundary, it is a striving for foreknowledge and omniscience. Every aspect of the divine being becomes the battle-ground of the sinful creature. We want to wipe out God and be him. The cross of Jesus Christ says at least this much.

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The gospel is the good news of God becoming a creature to take the punishment for rebellious creatures in order to restore them back to their appropriate creatureliness. It is the most amazing story ever told. The Son reveals Creator and creature. In him, we see who God is and who we were intended to be. We behold in him a humble God who refuses to take advantage of his deity using it instead to serve humanity.

In him we see a creature that loves God, trusts God, obeys God, loves people, and goes about his daily tasks with joy and purpose. It is through his perfect life and his perfect death that our punishment is removed and we are restored. Through the justifying and cleansing work of the cross we stand in the right before the Trinity.

Through the indwelling Spirit and his mighty work, we are being remade into the creatures we were intended to be. God is in the business of making us human once again. The glory of the gospel is that it is powerful enough to make us creatures.

Through the gospel, we are liberated from our endless strivings for deity. We are relieved of thrones too large for us. We are freed from thoughts too high for us. We are released from trying to know all things and control all things.

The weight of trying to be God is lifted from our shoulders. In other words, our sin is put to death. We are free to be who we are: creatures. By the gospel, we take our rightful place as recipients. We move from subject to object. We move from standing to kneeling. We move from running to resting.

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The Creature’s Psalm

Psalm 131 is a short psalm containing only three verses. And yet, it is crammed full of great creation theology. With brevity, the psalmist captures the heart of what it means to be a creature before God. He presents a pathway to peace, an alternative to a frantic existence. Take a look at the text.

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.”

The psalmist has embraced his human boundaries. He knows the limits of his capacity, ability, and influence. His words are an affirmation, an acceptance, as it were, of his very nature. It is as if he said, “I know I am a human being and I embrace all that entails. I find peace within the confines of my humanity…for it is here that I rest in my Creator and relish in being his creature.”

The text implies that the root of anxiety is the transgression of creaturely boundary. It is in occupying ourselves with things that belong to God that we are made restless and worrisome. We try to control what we cannot. We attempt to change things beyond our power. We grasp for knowledge that is above us. We seat ourselves on the divine throne though our feet cannot touch the ground.

Joseph Alexander states, “The great and wonderful things meant are God’s secret purposes, and sovereign means for their accomplishment, in which man is not called to cooperate, but to acquiesce.” Operating beyond our bounds will inevitably run us down. It’s like putting a four cylinder engine in a semi truck. On the other hand, rest comes from refusing to be anything but human.

The truth of this text also helps us to think realistically about the reach of our influence, the impact of our abilities, and the aspirations of our hearts. John Calvin has some helpful comments in this vein.

“In this he teaches us a very useful lesson, and one by which we should be ruled in life — to be contented with the lot which God has marked out for us, to consider what he calls us to, and not to aim at fashioning our own lot ­ to be moderate in our desires, to avoid entering upon rash undertakings, and to confine ourselves cheerfully within our own sphere, instead of attempting great things…the question, therefore, was not whether the lot of David was mean or exalted; it is enough that he was careful not to pass beyond the proper bounds of his calling…those who, like David, submit themselves to God, keeping in their own sphere, moderate in their desires, will enjoy a life of tranquillity and assurance.”

Charles Spurgeon addresses this same issue from his own angle.

“It is well so to exercise ourselves unto godliness that we know our true sphere, and diligently keep to it. A man does well to know his own size. Ascertaining his own capacity, he will be foolish if he aims at that which is beyond his reach, straining himself, and thus injuring himself. Such is the vanity of many men that if a work be within their range they despise it, and think it beneath them: the only service which they are willing to undertake is that to which they have never been called, and for which they are by no means qualified.”

Spurgeon also adds that this psalm is “one of the shortest Psalms to read, but one of the longest to learn.” Indeed, being human is the hardest thing for humans to do. It is this reality that made the incarnation necessary. The gospel is about making us human once again, for it puts to death our attempts to be more than human and releases us from all that makes us less than human. Sin within either works to exalt or degrade our humanity. God’s grace engages both impulses, suffocating them and replacing them with new desires. These new creation impulses created through the gospel are not exceptional, they are mundane. They are desires to be a human being—trusting the Creator and roaming in the freedom of being a creature.